Not exactly a workflow but a great article on why so many productivity workflows may or do not work
Same topic as this earlier thread.
Oh well i tried, will just lurk silently in future
FWIW the title of this thread got my attention where the other one didn’t.
It is an excellent article. I’m grateful to you for sharing it.
The author, MPU pal Cal Newport, putts GTD into context of more than a century of American productivity movements.
The article features, and prominently quotes, another friend of MPU – Merlin Mann.
GTD is an evolution from Peter Drucker’s dictum in the 1950s that American business leadership requires individual autonomy for office workers. We don’t even question this anymore – management sets quantifiable goals and workers decide for themselves how to meet those goals.
Newport argues that individual action to maximize productivity has hit its limit. We’re STILL swamped by email, interruptions – and COVID-19 driving office workers home has only made matters worse, by adding childcare and housework to everything else.
The corporation needs to exert control over how people work.
Sounds great when Newport suggests it, but we’re already seeing businesses installing spyware on workers’ computers, and cameras in their homes.
Interestingly, just this week I was getting into a discussion about how individual action won’t stop big businesses from doing evil. Boycotting products isn’t enough to stop manufacturers of those products from doing evil; we have to think as citizens, not just consumers, and take political action.
The common thread here being individual action is not enough.
I think you picked a fine article! Look at the number of click throughs that the article has!
Any way I can read the article without having to create an account? I’m not interested in the New Yorker generally, and I hate having “loose” accounts lying around. (Of course I use 1Password - it’s the email address I don’t want them to have)
On my post on the same subject I linked to his blog
I read it on iOS by just dismissing the pop up
I’m a big fan of everything Cal writes (he’s got an excellent podcast) and was happy to see this article the other day.
A striking point of commonality with some other GTD users I know personally is that there’s a high incidence of “falling off the wagon”, then an inevitable reboot, followed by another crash, etc. and the cycle continues.
Having an inbox and a way to capture things has been great, but I find myself using the other principles of GTD less and less, using more of Newport’s Time Box management system and am less reliant on technological apps as of late. More things are just going into a checklist or on a calendar, contexts are not longer a constraint.
If you have Apple News+ (and who doesn’t now given the deal on Apple One?) it’s at
This was a great read. One thing it brought to mind, especially the Merlin Mann quotes, is that a lot of what is becoming of the productivity as a business industry has turned the purpose of this into something that takes up more time than the tasks you are trying to organize. I have caught myself in this many times, from switching techniques, watching too many YouTube videos, switching apps, etc.
I observe many participants in this forum and others seeking to exactly copy someone else’s system or asking what the “right” system is for notetaking.
The truth is - we are all different. Use other systems as data points, mix and match ideas from those, and create some new tweaks of your own. That will result in a much more usable system for your own needs and preferences.
As someone who produces content in this industry, I find this often the case for myself. I really, really don’t like the lifehacks/quick hits/tweak your workflow just to eek a bit more effectiveness mindset that’s out there. Yet I also feel pressure to create content in that vein because that’s what people want.
That being said, my main hope is to help people make better decisions for themselves about what they may or may not need in a system, and to show what’s worked for me (and hasn’t) so maybe someone else can take where I’ve gone and go further.
On another note: systems are super helpful, but we often vastly overcomplicate them, myself included. They are a tool in our tool bag that can help us stay focused and remember what’s important to us. But not all systems are right for all people. Heck, most people probably would get by with a simple notebook or paper-based system versus something more complex.
If a system is taking more time to tweak and use than to get the work done, we might have a priority out of place or something we’re avoiding. It feels good to have a working system, but it might not feel so good to work on that difficult project.
I am a big fan of Cal Newport. He just talks sense without over complicating things, but with a wealth of reading behind his thinking. I especially like his podcast where he just answers listener questions. So much covered in each podcast but all with the same deep themes. This article made me think a lot about how work is allocated. He has a book coming out next year on post-email working that should be really interesting.
I’m not sure I want to become more efficient or effective, or less distracted. Perhaps the answer is to become more at ease with who one is.
I enjoyed the article and the part that hit me the most was right at the beginning where MM makes the comment that the work was overwhelming even though he was an intelligent, competent person, the deluge of email was working against him. As I think it does with many people.
I’m not sure where the blame lies, if with anyone, however we are not doing anyone any favours by the continued deluge.
There are probably many solutions, one of which would be saying no to your boss* when they want pile “something else” on to you and your already overwhelmed team. (*let me know how that goes!)
But I do feel there are many very competent people being weighed down by less competent people above them. I can identify a few I have worked with and for and probably been the protagonist on more than a few occasions.
I did learn from one manager, albeit prior to modern email, that all managers should play a DOTS role: “Deflector of the Sh!t” to allow teams to get on with the work they actually got paid to do. So while I don’t think competent people need to be micro-managed, as some have taken that view from the article, but I do think the “organisation” (immediate manager, peers etc) can take a role to help manage workloads and priorities.
The article has made me reflect on how I deal with random requests, random people and my own (un)diagnosed ADHD which has been helpful and constructive. (The reflection, not the (un)diagnosed ADHD!)
I had just started reading the latest version of GTD, too. Timing is everything.
Cal completely misses this (or just doesn’t agree). I appreciate learning new history and context from the piece, but he’s still lost in the weeds. We need to be digging up roots.
I didn’t like this article on first pass, but after reading the discussion here and on Cal’s blog, then re-reading the article, I’ve come around. The discussion above about copying others’ systems solidified it for me. The takeaway is that the organization should not blindly copy organizational productivity systems, which it has done by adopting harmful parts of The Effective Executive, just as factories adopted harmful parts of Taylorism.
The organization should study itself, including its ability to train, to establish a baseline of methods to work more effectively and sustainably. An employee, in turn, should either adopt the company’s methods or improve on them with their personal approach if it is superior. The employees with superior personal approach should be noticed and studied by the organization as part of the self-learning process. And so on.
Regarding the reluctance to be effective, this is about work that does not burn out and provides for longer periods of rest and recreation, due to work periods being more effective. Any organization serious about studying this would arrive at this conclusion if they did not start there.
I base this on some familiarity with designing sales methods. Sales is an area where managed and trained knowledge work have been most thoroughly applied (because the results are direct and obvious), and where superior personal approaches are respected and copied. Workdays in effective non-retail sales organizations generally become shorter as the techniques and information management improve.
GTD is still a thing?